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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  April 24, 2012 12:00am-1:00am PDT

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>> rose: welcome to our program. we begin this evening with a wide-ranging conversation about foreign policy, economic decisions and the presidential race with senator john mccain. >> we all have strengths and weaknesses but there are some things that mitt doesn't know. you know what i didn't know until the other day? all the money that was left to him when he was young a young man he gave away. he gave it away. so this born with a silver spoon in his mouth line, that's ridiculous! >> rose: and on this 448th birthday of william shakespeare, we talk with michael kahn, artistic director of the shakespeare theater company. >> i don't know how he knew everything but i think it's knowing everything combined with an extraordinary use of language so that you have all of this passionate outpouring of, you
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know, ugliness or humanity within a very immensely strict form which i think makes a tension something quite... nobody else does it. >> rose: john mccain, michael kahn when we continue.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. the republican presidential nominee against president obama in 2008: senator mccain has shaped the debate on a number of
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national issues from campaign finance reform to the use of torture. as a ranking member of the arms services committee he's been a key member on afghanistan, iraq and the arab spring. i'm pleased to have john mccain back at this table. >> thank you for having me back, charlie. congratulationss on your new gig. (laughs) >> rose: you've been there so i appreciate you coming every time as i appreciate you coming to the table. tell me where you think the syrian situation is and what's necessary to change the dynamic of a stalemate. >> well, first of all, i think the situation is dire, that it's an unfair fight. the russians are pouring arms and equipment in on the part of bashar assad and blocking any meaningful resolutions in the united nations security council. iranians not only are helping but they're on the ground. there is shelling from artillery tanks and even helicopters. the kofi annan plan is clearly not going to work as most of us anticipated. >> rose: because the syrians will not... >> no. >> rose:... the assad government
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will not... >> he couldn't stand the demonstrators that would come out, the demonstrators that would come out he could not stand. one of the things that bothers me a little bit, everybody says it's inevitable that he he's going to leave. well, if you use enough brutality and you have enough force you can probably be around for quite a period of time. so i see the situation as one of near desperation on the part of those who are struggling against him. a price of a kalashnikov bullet on the black market is up to $4. they're that desperate for arms and equipment. yes, i worry about who might be part of the opposition, but the longer it goes on, the more likely extremist elements can come into it. i'm sorry for the long answer. but an interesting thing happened just today. as you know, the president of the united states spoke at the holocaust museum and he was introduced by a man that you and i revere, elie wiesel.
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>> rose: exactly. >> and he used that opportunity, mr. wiesel did, to say why are we allowing... if we say never again, why are we allowing bashar assad to stay in power? that's... that pretty much... >> rose: but say what you think the president of the united states ought to do? >> well, we ought to start getting weapons into the opposition. there are many ways to do that. in libya we didn't directly supply the arms, but the arms and equipment and training got in. we've got to give... at least give them some semblance of a fair fight. i think we need to carve out sanctuary which is the turks, i think, with our leadership... what's absent in this is american leadership. that's what they're waiting for. that's what the gulf states are waiting for. that's what the saudis are waiting for. that's what the turks are waiting for. a sanctuary so they can arm and train and equip. the turks would play a key role in that but, again, american leadership. and if necessary the use of air power to prevent bashar from...
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>> rose: u.s. air power... nato air power? >> it would have to be multilateral. >> rose: but using air power in syria. there's some fear that they may have very sophisticated air defense systems supplied by the russians and that there would be real casualties. >> they do. >> rose: and you know what it means to be shot down. >> (laughs) we spend $700 billion on defense. $700 billion taxpayer dollars. if we can't take out syrian air defenses than the taxpayers are being ripped off even more than... >> rose: but that's saying that whatever the most lateral organization is, their intent ought to be to take out the air defense system, own the skies over syria... >> certainly you have no protect is sanctuary areas. in other words, maybe not necessarily all of syria, but certainly to protect that area where the sanctuary would be set up. and, by the way, i know americans are war weary.
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you're war weary; i'm war weary. tenth year in afghanistan. iraq. but, look, we are going to be a lot more war weary if we allow people like bashar assad to slaughter their own people. it's a violation of everything we stand for and everything we believe in and there's isolationists in my party that are on the far right and there's isolationists in the other side. but what the... what needs to happen here, in my view sfor the president of the united states to speak directly to the american people and say, look, 10,000 people have been massacred by this guy. the slaughter goes on. and we need to help them. and we need to speak up for them i met with the military leadership. i met with the syrian national council. they're crying out for our moral support. >> rose: what reel is iran playing again other than supplying arms? are they doing more? >> there's iranians on the
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ground from their guards outfit that are in iran doing the training as well as the equipping. general mad dus, he's the head of our central command, one of our leading military experts, said in testimony if assad fell it would be one of the greatest blow to iran in 25 years. it would cut them off from hazard, it would do all kinds of ramifications... hezbollah. so there is a national security component to this. >> rose: but you know what they always say, too. you have to be careful here because you do not know what's going to follow assad if, in fact, you can overthrow his regime. >> and that's exactly what they said about tunisia. that's exactly what they said about libya. and i admit that we have grave challenges as far as egypt is concerned. but to think that someone after bashar assad would be bad is
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lewd cus and, again, i want to point out... i talked with their leadership. they are worried about extremist elements come into this fight. the longer it goes on the more likely it is that extremists come into it. >> rose: do you think libya will turn out bad or good? >> i think it will turn out good. >> rose: because you think somehow those people coming into power are not... >> well, right now the prime minister and deputy prime minister of libya-- it's a temporary position-- they're both former professors at the university of alabama. the former finance minister was oil minister, was a professor at the university of washington. he's no longer that. and they have money. they have big challenges but it's not so much from extremists as it is from the tribal entities that exist in libya and always have that qaddafi kept under his control. but i'm confident over time that they will emerge as a reasonable
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nation with a reasonable amount of democracy and will not pose a threat to the security of the united states of america. now in egypt, my friend, it's a dicey situation. but they also have to understand that, charlie, mubarak was going to go whether we wanted them to go or not. he was going to go. when that young man set himself on fire in tunisia, that lit a flame that's not going to go out for a long time and is going to spread all around the world. >> rose: does it have to go through a period in which, in fact, there will be governments coming to power that are akin to the muslim brotherhood? >> i think it depends on what you call the muslim brotherhood. there are elements of the muslim brotherhood that i think we can work with and it can be reasonable. there are other elements the salafists and others that we cannot. >> rose: but in some cases they're being elected to parliament and in some cases they're... >> yeah. and i met with the leader of the muslim brotherhood in egypt. he says a lot of the right things. he's a very wealthy man.
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i think there is an understanding in egypt that they don't think an extremist government should take charge but, remember, these may be islamic governments. israel has a jewish government. i mean, that's what it is. >> rose: well, they want to be defined as jewish state. that's one of the principal arguments that the prime minister makes today. part of the negotiating. >> right. so we can help and we can assist. but they are going to determine their own future and it's dicey, their relations with israel. as you know, they just canceled the pipeline deal that was part of the camp david agreements even. so there is a real risk there and it's well known egypt is the heart and soul of the arab world. but it's up to the egyptians in many ways and we can assist but they certainly don't want us to dictate. but this arab spring is not something that we could have extinguished. it's going to... >> rose: we didn't start it nor can we put it out.
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>> it's in russia. you've seen elements of it in china. you've seen some elements even here in our country. if you and i had had sitting here saying bin ali is no longer in tunisia, mubarak in egypt, qaddafi in libya, you would have said "hey, get them out of here." i mean, the world is changing and it's changing rapidly and dramatically. >> rose: define for me how you see the element of change. >> social media, social communications. i was in tunisia at a dinner with a bunch of the activists who had been... played a key role in driving out bin ali. >> rose: when was this? >> about a year ago right after it happened. she said "senator mccain, you know who our national hero is?" i said "who?" she said "mark zuckerberg." i'm not making that up. a young man in egypt showed me his blackberry and said "i can get 200,000 people in the square in three hours." s that dynamic aided by social
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networking that which cannot be stopped. >> but is the american story part of their sense of... the american ideal, the american story part of what it is that they aspire to be? >> absolutely. they quote all the time the universal aspirations that we made so clear in our declaration of independence. they believe that. they are... they believe that we in many ways are their role model. at the same time, there is significant resentment that many of them believe we didn't come to their assistance early enough. there is also the islamic element that is anti-israel that is also out there. but overall they want to be like us. they want to be like us. they don't want to be like russia or china, they want to be like us. and we do... >> rose: respect for dignity. >> and we do inspire them. so our role is to assist them, but carefulful not to dictate to
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them. >> rose: iran and the relationship it has russia, the relationship it has with china. how will we stop iran from building a nuclear capacity? >> two points. one, biggest mistake that has been made in many years was in early 2009, one and a half million iranians are demonstrating in the streets of tehran chanting in english "obama, obama, are you with us? are you with him?" not one word of encouragement from the president of the united states. >> rose: that's come up before. why do you think the president didn't speak to that? >> because the president said he wanted to be able to negotiate with the islamic republic of iran. he was telling our ambassadors around the world to invite their own aian counterparts to the fourth of july celebration. he was sending personal notes to ahmadinejad... >> rose: the supreme leader. >> he was under the impression that somehow he could deal with these iranians and by not standing up... we watched a
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young woman named neda on facebook bleed to death in the street in tehran. i mean, to me it's... >> rose: if john mccain had been president what would he have done? >> i'd have been doing what ronald reagan did during the cold war and said "god bless you i am with you." we don't want to do what we did in hungary in 1956 when we encouraged them and then the russian tanks rolled in but to give them the moral support, you've had nathan slan ski on your show. nathan shranski will tell you that ronald reagan's speeches about the gulag was a huge impact. he said it spread like wildfire throughout the gulag. they looked to us, it's america leading from ahead not behind. >> rose: okay, but the argument is sometimes made that they don't want to see us come on too strong in support of them because the perception by the regime will be that they are a tool of the americans. >> absolutely. and there's also the anti-israel
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card, as you know. one of the reasons the egyptians canceled the pipeline with israel is the anti-israel card and some of their politicians are playing it. so that's also a careful balance we have to maintain. so as long as they don't think we are dictating to them, i mean egypt niece terrible financial condition. they've got $1.3 billion in u.s. military aid, i.m.f. loan, forgiveness of a debt that they have of several billion dollars and all of that we have to orchestrate carefully so that we can help them but at the same time not alienate them. charlie, i am worried about egypt, don't get me wrong. >> rose: i can hear you are. >> but i think we can work our way through this and we don't have a choice. does anybody believe that mubarak was going to stay in power? absolutely not. >> rose: would you believe the army's going to stay in power? >> well, i don't know. i don't know the answer to that. i know that the army really is committed to the proposition that they will maintain their unique place in egyptian society
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and economy. so whether they're going to be able to orchestrate that or not i think is not clear. >> rose: are there there any cases where you would say... use that as a weapon, as leverage against a government to say "unless you change, whether it's egypt or any other government?" >> one, i think it has to be made very clear to them that unless... that after these elections... i wouldn't do anything before these elections which are going to take place in june because it might be used for obvious reasons. >> might hurt the candidates over there. >> rose: but after that depending on what they do with these n.g.o.s, they've even contacted interpol and for the benefit of our viewers, n.g.o.s are national democratic institute, international reap institute, freedom house, we're helping them with democracy, they not only threw them out of the country but they wanted to charge them. so unless there is progress in these areas and we have sent the
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message to them... >> rose: unless there's progress in these areas what? >> i think you'll see curtailment... >> rose: military and economic? >> i think it has to be measured it has to be done in a mature fashion, it has to be done in as comprehensive and cohesive fashion as possible but we cannot continue to render that support if they're going go in that direction. we're not going to tell them what direction they have to go but there is a price to pay if you go on a path that we don't agree with. just like the same way we should treat dictatorships. >> rose: how should we treat russia if they're not going on a path... they're supporting syria they're supporting iran, they're not voting with us on the security council is. >> charlie, we keep pounding that reset button. putin is an oligarch, this mag in the ski death, the absolute trampling on all rules of
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behavior. they are... many reasons why they're supporting syria. one is that the port is their last outpost of the soviet union and you know how nostalgic putin is for that. and they've behaved in a manner which is not acceptable. >> rose: that's a given. so what does the united states do in response to that if, in fact, it want to have some leverage on china in a stones join with us in terms of using economic sanctions, whether it's iran or syria >> i think we have to condemn both russia and china in the court of public opinion. by doing what they're doing, russia is really harming themselves in the public opinion of every arab country in the world. the chinese obviously... look, this latest thing about the death of the british and the wife and all, if you wrote a novel, nobody would read it. it's bizarre but it shows the fundamental weaknesses within this clique that runs the
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country of 1.3 billion people. but back to the russians for a second. i think one of the things we can do is reiterate our commitment to missile defense. when the president the other day said he was going to be flexible >> rose: after the elections. >> yes. we should be inflexible. this is a defensive... >> rose: you thought that was worse than most people did and you were offended by that? the fact that the president said that or not? >> i was offended by that because what does that mean? when we have a stated policy that the american people i think are very much approved of which has been... >> rose: what do you think it means? did it mean he would make decisions after the election that he would not make now because he thinks it would impair his sflex >> i don't know how you can draw any other conclusion. if you have a stated policy publicly and then you give wink-wink, nod-nod... >> rose: but he didn't say what the policy would be. he said i'll have more room... if i can't do it now. but hi didn't say what steps he might take that would be...
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>> rose: to show flexibility? (laughs) come on. >> rose: all right. so back to israel. suppose israel says to the united states we tried to give you a chance to make sanctions work, it hasn't. what do you if you're the u.s. president say or do? >> first of all this latest set of meetings and negotiations between... you know, that the iranians are willing to negotiate i think it's a stalling ploy but it may be an effective one to say we're going to have another meeting. but we've seen this movie before both with iran and north korea. but... so that may delay the decision making that the israelis may feel they have to make. the israelis' problem is this. if they wait until a period of time that a destruction or impairment of iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons is no longer within their military strength but within the united states military strengthen they
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have to rely on the united states of america's decision. well, first of all, no nation does that. but second of all, that's why netanyahu when he was here kept saying over and over again israel is a sovereign nation and will act to preserve its status as a sovereign nation. now i don't know where these iranian talks are going to go. they have not succeeded in the past at all and we've seen a letup in their activities but it may be an excellent stalling tactic. i don't know what the israeli decision making will be but put yourself in their position and i think you would be gravely concerned about what their intelligence... >> rose: trying to make clear that they are. many people look at the obama foreign policy and say it's economic policy that is his weakness, not foreign policy. that he's just done fine and obviously they look at important points like the killing of osama bin laden. they look at that and say he was decisive, he took a chance, he
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made the right call. this is the kind of guy we want in the white house. >> i think it was an incredibly laudable decision to take out bin laden. to his great credit. i'd also point out that's a tactic to hold the democratic process there in my view is unraveling and a lot of this could have been prevented if we had had a residual force there. the president said the surge wouldn't work, he said he wanted out of iraq, well, the surge worked, he's out of iraq. in afghanistan i think the strategic partnership agreement is a very laudable thing. i'm glad they did what they did. now we'll have to see the details of it but a long-term strategic partnership with afghanistan is in order. here's what leaders around the world are telling me. the united states is weak and the united states is withdrawing. and that's what they're telling me is their perception. >> rose: and they want the opposite. they want the u.s. to be strong and the united states not to be withdrawing but to exercise
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leadership. >> that's what they tell me and that's why a lot of these countries are deciding to go their own way because the absence of the united states leadership. >> rose: you now have a likely nominee what is the argument that you think that the republican nominee ought to make against the president? >> first of all, the nominee governor romney has to convince the american people that he has a plan. >> rose: does he have a plan that's different from the ryan plan? >> i think he does and you're going to see more and more of it being fleshed out in the weeks ahead. because you've got to give the american people a positive agenda first but also then obviously then the reason why the president is running on class warfare attacking speculators and all the things that he has been doing is because he can't hide from his record. the stimulus package, the bailout of the bank... dodd-frank bill.
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remember the dodd-frank bill was going to do what? make sure no institution was ever again too big to fail. these institutions are more bigger and more powerful than they ever were. look at the stimulus package. it was over a trillion dollars counting interest and it's now three and a half years later. probably the biggest mistake that this administration made was obamacare. over 60% of the american people believe it ought to be changed fundamentally or done away with with. >> rose: why do you think that is? is it because they think it's too much of a government intrusion into their health care or something else? >> i think that. i think they also believe it doesn't bring health care costs down. and third of all, many of them... a lot of americans observe the sleeze, the sleeze, the cornhusker kickback, the louisiana purchase, the... it was... look, charlie, i've seen a lot of things in washington. i've never seen... they bring in the pharmaceutical company and bludgeon them and they support obamacare then they bludgeon somebody else. it's... it's just... it was
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really... after watching that i wanted to go take a shower. >> rose: do you believe in universal health care access? >> i think every american should have access to reasonable and affordable health care. >> rose: other than going to the emergency room. >> yeah. and i think that every american should have access to it. make it available in an access to it. it doesn't mean that you mandate that an american citizen have something. prescribe what's in it and say you're going to fine them if they don't. that's why the supreme court-- neither you nor i know-- but it's going to be a 5-4 decision one way or the other. >> rose: which way do you think it have been in >> i don't know. >> rose: let me stay with the economic issue because i remember the straight talk express. i'm old enough to remember the straight talk express. i'm old enough to remember... >> rose: >> right after the spanish american war, yes. >> rose: i'm old enough to remember that john mccain and the concord coalition... john mccain was the guy who said "we're in economic trouble and we cannot go with these kinds of deficits and we have to do something about spending, but we
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also have to do something about revenue." now here we come with all kinds of grand bargains. boehner, obama, the gang of six, simpson-bowles. where are you on those kinds of proposals that were promoted that would bring some kind of deficit reduction from both sides of the ledger? >> in the negotiations of the supercommittee, pat toomey... >> rose: this was the deficit... >> committee. yes. pat toomey, a very conservative senator from pennsylvania, and a new one, offered up a proposal that would have increased revenues. now we never want to say raise taxes, okay? you never want to use that. but it would have increased revenue. all of us really signed on to that. >> rose: "all of us"ing? >> the republicans in the senate. not all of us. >> rose: republicans in the senate is different from republicans in the house. >> yes but if they had cut that deal on that supercommittee i
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think you would have seen increases in revenue. now how would he do it? bri loophole closing. there's loopholes out there as you know that the reason why the tax code is this high is because lobbyists... >> rose: but the president is in favor of that, too. that's a proposal that the democrats make. reduce the deductions and lower corporate income tax. >> but the democrats on that committee-- and history will write this factually-- but the democrats on the committee refused that offer. they refused that offer and there just wasn't... and, of course, then we got the sequestration. here's what i think all of us... what is... here's what i tell you what i think is going to happen. >> rose: in january, 2013. >> or november when we go back into lame duck session is they that they're going to take up simpson-bowles again. simpson-bowles is a blueprint, that's the commission that the president assigned. i know our viewers know what it is. and that will be an excellent blueprint. in that blueprint there are increases in revenues but the increase in revenues along the lines where you close loopholes and you give people a simpler,
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fairer tax code and revenues go up. >> rose: let me just hear you clearly. john mccain is saying, look, the menu-- as john boehner said to me last week-- the menu for any negotiations has been and will be simpson-bowles. and you're saying you think republicans will be prepared to support simpson-bowles and will look at revenue as well as spending cuts as long as spending cuts address entitlements. >> and as long as those "revenue raisers" are things that most americans can support. in other words, take away all of these tax deductions that people claim. rich people's second houses. why should they get a mortgage deduction on the second house. >> rose: the likely nominee has raised that question even though he didn't want it to be attributed to him, about eliminating the deduction for second houses. >> there's a broad menu which could be eliminate which had would "raise revenue" and at the same time make our system fairer and flatter and one the american people can believe in.
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why do we have three tax brackets? why not just have three? say you can have a mortgage deduction for your home and deductions to charity we all know what that blueprint. is it's simpson-bowles and we all know what the answer is. we just don't have the guts to move on it right now and that accounts for... last time i checked, approval rating of congress was all the way up to 11%. >> rose: (laughs) i know. that's you! >> i often say we're down to paid staffers and blood relatives. >> rose: (laughs) you have said that before. but it's a good line you always use. >> i always use it. i overuse it, yeah. >> rose: there is this, also. your nominee has to choose a vice presidential nominee. you're famous for choosing sarah palin. >> (laughs) yes. >> rose: and you're famous also for not saying "i regret it, it was the wrong choice, i shouldn't have done it" and to speak aoccasionly admiring of her. >> absolutely. >> rose: why do you say that? >> because she continues to be
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attacked. >> rose: so you're doing that because she's attacked. you just want to stand up and say... >> i want to defend her. i think she's a fine and great person. >> rose: if you had it to do over you would choose sarah palin? would you? >> yes. >> rose: seriously, i'm asking. >> yes. >> rose: would you? >> yes. >> rose: even though people around you said it was a big mistake. you know that. >> i think in retrospect a few people around me did. but hindsight is 2020-20. >> rose: steve schmidt is not people. >> well, we were behind before she gave her speech at the republican convention. the then we were ahead. she was in a debate with a very experienced politician in joe biden. she beat him in the debate. she galvanized people all over america and we were three points ahead-- i'll show you the pollster. three points ahead the day the stock market went down 700 points. at the end of that day we were down seven points. >> rose: in other words the stock market collapse is what killed it? >> the economy. the economy has to play a role. just as the economy is going to
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play a role in this campaign. i'm not excusing anything i did or anything i said or anything... that one for historians to judge. but facts are stubborn things and that is we were doing very well, our team, i thought and still believe to this day she had all of the qualifications. a heart beat away. >> let me say this, too. i have never seen someone attacked as consistently and with the fervor that the left continues to attack sarah palin! i mean, what's the point? it's over. you know? i defend her when asked about it but, look, i think the world of her, her husband is a fine person. he's a fine family. she was a good governor of her state. i mean, i will always appreciate the fact that sarah palin was willing to serve with me. >> rose: okay. >> we had to get through that. >> rose: i know. (laughs) >> anyway. >> rose: who should romney
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choose? >> i think it comes down to a few people. as always. marco rubio, rob portman. both are from states that can be key but also bring unique strengths. kel lie ayotte is going to be a superstar. she's from new hampshire. chris chris city a very popular guy. he would be fun to watch. on the campaign circuit. he's very outspoken guy. there's several other governors and senators but those are pretty much the people that i think that mitt would consider. >> rose: what do you think the race is today, seven in. >> no, i think mitt is behind right now. >> rose: she is in even though polls say... because if you look at women and you look at this decisive state, florida, ohio. >> i think he's a few points behind but i take courage and encouragement from the fact that he's a few points behind because this was the most vicious primary campaign i have ever seen. i have never seen a campaign...
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a lot of it fueled by the super pac money and... >> rose: republicans attacking republicans. >> oh, my god, yeah. i've never seen such personal and vicious attacks and you've seen mitt's unfavorables go up because of it. naturally you've seen... >> rose: so he has a chance to introduce himself again to america. >> he's going to have to. and a lot of people... one thing that's fascinating recently and it started in 2008 but now debates really matter. debates that they're going to have i'll bet you there's a lot of americans right now who are saying hey, i'm going to see how he does in the debate. now, whether that's right or wrong... >> rose: that's exactly what happened to ronald reagan. >> exactly. >> rose: exactly what happened to ronald reagan. he did well in the first debate, people said maybe he's not this or that. >> yeah. so i think debates will matter. also i think that mitt was just in arizona, he's honed his message down pretty well. there is one benefit from this tough primary. it makes you better. >> rose: you had authenticity. people from the 2002 campaign,
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that's where it began said "i know this guy, i like this guy, he's real." >> uh-huh. >> rose: what does romney have to do to have that kind of connection? >> well, i think he has to, again, show himself to the american people in many ways. try not to be something that he's not. he's not a humorist. seriously. he's do so... >> rose: he's not john mccain. >> well, but i'm not a businessman, either, with the background and experience that he has nor as governor. i mean, we all have strengths and weaknesses but i also think, you know, there's some things that mitt don't know. you know what i didn't know until the other day? all the money that was left to him when he was a young man he gave away. he gave it away. so this born with a silver spoon in his mouth line, that's ridiculous. he gave away his money. and then decided to make it on his own. and he did. it's a tough business out there, what we call capitalism and the free enterprise system.
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and businesses are shut down. the only place i know where businesses weren't shut down was the old soviet union. so i think he's got to... he has to emphasize those strengths. we all know despite your and my long conversation about national security issues that it's going to be on jobs and the economy. he's got to prove to the american people he can handle the economy. and i think, frankly, that obama already is showing he's having an... it's an impossible task to run on his record. >> rose: the debate begins. thank you. >> rose: >> great to be back, charlie. >> rose: john mccain, republican senator from the great state of arizona. back in a moment. >> rose: michael kahn is here. he is the artistic director of the shakespeare theater company in washington, d.c. he has been a lover of the theater and a lover of shakespeare all his life. in elementary school he started his own theater troupe. he came to the shakespeare theater company in 1986 and he has been there ever since. this season the company is
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celebrating its 25th year. kahn explains his endless fascination with the famed writer this way "shakespeare opens our minds. he helps us to see deeper and farther interwhat it means to be human. each generation shares that legacy and each generation has a responsibility to carry it forward." i am pleased to have michael kahn at this table for the first time as part of our series on shakespeare. welcome. >> great to be here. >> rose: i like that quote. that's exactly right. just tell me how you came to this... >> myself? >> rose: yes. >> well, i think... my mother was a russian immigrant and she was sort of self-taught and by the time i knew her she was a businesswoman so i used to see her about 6:00 at night and she would read me shakespeare every night. that's the only time i spent with my mother and she read not "tales from shakespeare" not "charles and mary" she read shakespeare. she read "a tree grows in brooklyn" by betty smith. the irish immigrant mother reads
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the bible to her daughters. my mother read me shakespeare and the bible. when she read the bible she cut out all of the sexy parts. she cut out song of soloman, she cut out the begats. she didn't think there was a single word like that in shakespeare so he read all of it and she would have been very surprised to find out shakespeare was a lot sexier than the bible was. >> rose: yes. and so when you went to washington, to the theater company, what was your mission? >> well, i had been the director at the american shakespeare theater in stratford, connecticut, for about ten years and i thought i really had nothing left to say or contribute to shakespeare so i stopped. and then i had been... as director of juilliard i'd also been teaching young people and the sort of connection to young people and ideas about shakespeare that were new and fresh and also sort of unknowing about shakespeare actually sort of stimulated me. so when the opportunity came to work at the... in washington i thought maybe that new stimulus
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could give me... allow me to say some things that i hadn't been able to say. and it was too actually first of all to make a theater that was about to close still exist. and, two, to create a real audience for shakespeare and to find an accessible american style that had nothing to do with dumbing it down, it had nothing to do with changing the words. it just had to do to find a way to be clear and interesting and speak directly to the audience. and i was able to do that in what was originally a small theater and is now a much larger one. >> rose: is there anything different about washington, d.c. in terms of what you're trying to do? >> well, the audience, of course. first of all, it's a very smart audience. >> rose: and power is a second language there. >> and there's no question that shakespeare deals with politics and power and the private man and the public man. really it's one of his great themes and so it's very easy to do something relevant.
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people say "how come your plays are so relevant, michael?" it's easy and of course every time a primary season comes up i think i should do coriolanus and somebody said "if you had had ed rollins you'd have a much better candidate." but it's easy to do plays in which the audience relates. for me, the better mouse trap of shakespeare is you can be discussing things that are really actually totally relevant to the situation that the country is in or your audience tse in without changing it, without making it modern. and sometimes those issues, audiences don't want to go. if you said i was going to do a play about power, i was going to do a play about the effects of war that might not come but shakespeare is like the better mouse trap. >> rose: have you seen ralph fiennes coriolanus? >> no. i think he's a wonderful actor and i was pleased to get to know him when he came to washington.
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we're going do "coriolanus" this year so i don't want to see the movie. >> rose: tell me about the impact of shakespeare in his own time. >> well, first of all anybody who says it wasn't shakespeare who wrote it is very difficult for me to believe. he was the most popular important... important playwright of his time. the imhe had was he was the most popular playwright so you could say they was neil simon or whoever you'd like of his time. people just came. they came for the excitement of it. they came for the language. he invented so much language that for people who were just beginning to discover the classical world it must have been sort of the same thing people are feeling now about all of the technical things that are happening on the internet and all of the things we're learning. for them it was an explosion. it will never happen again with words. it will happen in other media. so i think that's one of the things about him was that this
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was a discovery. and when we go to shakespeare we still have... if it's a good production that same sense of discovery and relevance for ourselves. >> rose: shakespeare, if he was writing today looking at the present political environment both domestically and internationally what would he be writing about? >> family. >> rose: destruction of the soul? >> relationship to the cosmos. relationship to family. >> rose: that's the genius of shakespeare. >> yeah. i don't know how he knew everything. but i think it's knowing everything combined with an extraordinary use of language so that you have all of this passionate outpouring of... ugliness or humanity within a very immensely strict form which i think makes the tension something quite... nobody else does it. but he would write the same thing. they might be a little shorter. >> rose: yes, indeed. has there been a particular
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person in political power in the world who's had... you say that's a shakespearean character? >> well, it comes up all the time. i've heard many years people wanted me to say wasn't george bush ii henry v because he had that kind of childhood and father. it was hard for me to see him as a shakespearean character but i think you can say that stalin must have been a shakespearean character. that any major... chew which he is cue... >> rose: tyrants generally. >> but also, i think, people who have learned on the job like henry v has learned on the job becomes... you know, he's a callow youth and he's had difficulty with his parents but he's an uncertain king when he becomes king. he's actually talked into a false war by the church. there's no real reason to go to war with the french. the church gets him to do it
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because they don't want to have to pay money to him so they get him to try to get money somewhere else. it's a fake war. which is very interesting because if you see the olivier version and there was a war it's a great important thing to go to war. when you see... i did it during the vietnam war first and i discovered all the reasons why it was a vak so i don't know what... i would suppose anybody in power could be seen in some form as having some shakespearean quality bus you have to be a much larger-than-life character to come up to shakespeare. >> rose: there's a level of terror, a level of... >> yeah, look at lear. lear is maybe a senile man but the way he fights against humility in the same way dylan thomas... you know, do not go gentle into the dark. that that kind of person if you had a father like that who went out howling into the storm you
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would say even if nobody ever heard of him you are a shakespearean character and i'm living with you. or if you have a couple ambitious daughters you might say... >> rose: as you have grown older have you changed your appreciation and do you now prefer one to the other? >> no, i think i haven't changed my appreciation. i'm very humbled because i was allowed to direct shakespeare when i was young and when i go to the plays again i'm very humbled by how little i knew. like a young person i was excited by the stories, i was excited by the drama. >> rose: but what you know now? >> now i'm excited by the incredible humanity and the incredible psychology. for men who wrote before psychology was even thought of. when i did "romeo and juliet"... when i came to washington for the first time because i had very little time to decide what i was going to do, i did rome owe and juliet. it was an easy play and i knew
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it. then i realized it was about a teenaged suicide and i was concerned that kids would be coming to the play and i was concerned there would be teen suicides so i went looking about teen suicide and i called up some experts and everything in that play that romeo goes through and juliet goes through, loss of a love, peer pressure, no parent paying attention to them, nobody to talk to was exactly what created teen suicide. this is shakespeare riding the what he thought about was an issue, this is true all the way through so i tried to get underneath the character through the language. i pay attention to every single word. i say this is a great writer. why did he put that word there instead of another. >> rose: and most people don't present full texts, do they? >> well, no, and i do editing. they're gorgeous passages but
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sometimes if i get a rid of a little it might move quicker. i do that... i think i'm talking to him and i say if you were sitting next to me i would try to make this case to you that you don't need this anymore. >> rose: what's the best performance you ever saw? >> well, the best productions i ever saw were peter brook's "dream" which totally changed my life. >> rose: how did it change your life? >> well, the fairys are on real swings and it was ary hearseal room and it was no magical decor and the flower they passed was sort of chinese trick but then i saw zeffirelli's "romeo and juliet" in the theater. i saw in the venice and that was the first time when even though it was in renaissance clothes the contemporary of the guy
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sitting around had nothing to do with the piazza, the passion. and then i saw in italian the "the tempest" which i thought was the most magical production. so it's been productions that have actually... i was lucky. i got to see olivier in his prime. i directeds saysy keach, i could look at that and say "that was one of the extraordinary times i've seen richard iii." so every once in a while i'm privileged to be part of something like that. >> rose: what was it about olivier? >> well, vocally he was amazing. i don't know if you could do that anymore. one of the things i think you could take a look at is how society changes by looking at how shakespeare has been reduced and acted. we would know more think of somebody like lesley howard as a character in a shakespeare play
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anymore. we wouldn't understand that kind of... sort of effete high class somewhat passionless... but that was what the aristocracy or that was what seemed to be important. i don't think we vote for presidents like franklin delano roosevelt anymore, even if you believe the same things because that way of speaking. >> rose:? that pa trisian voice. >> a very cultivated, very good school voice. then in the '60s the way people did shakespeare was angry young men. they were even using no longer posh accents. so when i look at olivier and think of the ability to characterize an extraordinary way with an amazingly voice that couldn't be... could be moll lod i can and do all those things. it's difficult now because most of us are taught to talk on one level. politicians don't want to sound
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too educated anymore. i don't think there's been a "g" at the end of a politician for years. >> rose: i still have this great reverence for the quality of a voice and the ability to use it and make it like an instrument. >> i don't think you can do shakespeare without that. it doesn't mean you have to sound... first of all, i don't think you should sound english because we're american. but i think if you don't have variety in your voice, if you don't have melody in your voice. i was director of juilliard for many, many years, at the drama school and it got over the years more difficult to convince young people that that was necessary because very rarely do they have anybody... if you watch television which, you know, if you watch shows on television, not your show, drama, there's no need for that in a way too much ability vocally almost sounds false when you near close. so it was very hard and still is hard to convince young people
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which i think is very important if this work is to continue that these other qualities are not some fashionist saying you have to have them. >> rose: tell me before... roll tape richard ii. we're going to see richard has people settle their differences in a duel. >> that's the hardest scene in shakespeare to do it's the first scene so i think, thinking shakespeare might be with me. and no one knew what was going on between mulberry and richard and bowling brook because there's aningment about a murder. and nobody knows what it is. so i found a play that was contemporary to shakespeare called "woodstock" by anonymous. real anonymous, not that film:
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and i knew that all of shakespeare's audience knew the story so i cobbled together two scene which is explained that richard had caused the death of its uncle woodstock and that mobery had something to do with it and here in this scene richard is pretending he doesn't know anything about it and mobery is protecting his innocence and richard is pretending he knows nothing about it. >> rose: here it is. (inaudible) (inaudible)
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(inaudible). >> rose: what is known as the great denial. >> there was no record that he had caused it. and now he gets rid of the man who knows, too. >>. >> rose: this is from henry v you made an anti-war production of henry v. lawrence olivier made a pro-war production. so one play, two interpretations. >> i changed my mind as i got older and thought shakespeare is bigger than one single point of view. >> rose: the scene is where henry announces intent to go to war with france. here it is.
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>> not measuring what use we made of them. we never valued this poor seat of england and therefore, living hence, did give ourself this barbarous license as 'tis ever common that men are merriest when they are from home. but tell me t dauphinly keep my state, be like a king and so my sail of greatness when i do rouse me in my throne of france for that i have laid by my majesty and plotted like a man for working days. but i will rise there with so full a glory that i will dazzle all the eyes of france. >> rose: >> by the way, that young actor, michael hayden, is a brilliant classical actor and nobody, i don't think, has done those two parts in repertoire so every other performance he did one or
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the other of richard or henry. an extraordinary young man. >> rose: i conclude that shakespeare is without a moral point of view you have said but you have also said that shakespeare does not tell us what the... what to think, he tells us what to think about. >> that's what i hope would be the experience of a play. i hope an audience would come willing to see what might be difference about this production of the one they liked the last time but also that the production would in some way make dialogue with the audience. shakespeare was an explorer not a moralist. he laid it out. and i'm hoping that that dialogue might continue after the show is over and people might think about something they haven't thought about before and that would make me and all the actors and shakespeare, i think wildly happy. >> rose: thank you very much. thank you for joining us. see you next time.
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